Drapers’ latest roundtable debated the potential of personalisation to create a seamless and individual multichannel experience.
To date, personalisation has proved one of the hardest strategies to define in retail. Rather than just being about product recommendations online based on past browsing and purchasing history, it crosses over into every aspect of the business – from website design, to email marketing and social media, staff training and promotional activity.
In Drapers’ and Retail Week’s Personalisation Report, created in association with software specialist Monetate, we surveyed more than 200 retailers. The research found that 72% said customers are demanding a more personalised approach and 80% see personalisation as a concept that should be truly multichannel. Improving customer engagement was cited as the biggest benefit at 46%, followed by customer loyalty and repeat business at 19%, and conversion rate improvement at 18%.
However, while the case for personalisation is clear and some early adopters have raced ahead to create a truly personal experience, for other retailers getting to grips with personalisation is proving tricky.
Drapers and Retail Week invited ecommerce and marketing specialists from the likes of Harrods, Hunter and Gieves & Hawkes to discuss the potential of personalisation. The roundtable event at London’s Century Club on May 12 focused on the key actions retailers need to take, both in-store and online, to ensure their business does not get left behind.
Kicking off the discussion, Monetate EMEA director of client solutions Alex Henry told roundtable participants he believes the UK market is ready for personalisation. As customer expectations are higher than ever, he said, the experience must be seamless across all channels if it is to succeed. Any personalisation strategy should begin with the retailer defining what personalisation needs to look like for their customers.
“Everyone has a different definition of personalisation,” said Henry. “When most people talk about it they often mean product recommendations. Some might have sent out some segmented emails, or done some A/B testing [looking at website usage], but only a tiny percentage are looking at the whole experience. Personalisation is a huge growth opportunity and can make an immediate impact. If you’re not doing it by the end of 2015 you’re too far behind.”
For premium shirtmaker Hawes & Curtis head of ecommerce Antony Comyns, personalisation is about choosing the right product to present to your customer, whether that’s through targeted emails, behavioural marketing or recommendations. “Going forward, we’re going to look at how we can custom pages to make sure we get the customer to the product they want as quickly as possible.”
At Harrods, the focus is on a 360-degree customer experience, according to marketing manager Sara Lewis. “We focus heavily on our personal shopping department and want to ensure that level of service is replicated for everybody.
“In three years’ time expect to see amazing things from Harrods in terms of a completely integrated online and in-store experience. The most important thing is the customer journey and making sure everything works for that individual.”
House of Fraser director of brand Tony Holdway agreed that the key to effective personalisation is getting the tone of voice right. “You can utilise the customer data, but if the communication looks really corporate it won’t work. Making the brand tone of voice personal to the customer is as important as the use of data.”
Our retailer survey found that ownership of personalisation strategy within organisations has changed in almost 30% of businesses during the past three years. This has swung in favour of the marketing department in nearly 50% of businesses, up from around 45% in 2012, and the ecommerce team at around 35%, up from around 33% in 2012. The shift has been away from IT departments, down to less than 10% of businesses from around 23% three years ago.
For premium womenswear chain Hobbs’ head of global marketing Clare Dobbie, better personalisation will be achieved when marketing and ecommerce teams collaborate more closely with the chief information officer.
“Everyone in the team needs to put the customer at the heart of what they do and think about what they want now and in six months’ and 12 months’ time. This is only going to get harder, so you need to get your structure right and make it fluid so the business can evolve and be fleet of foot.”
As most of womenswear retailer East’s communications are delivered by email, personalisation sits within the ecommerce team.
“We are, however, restructuring to merge retail, ecommerce and marketing into a single department within the multichannel team,” reported ecommerce manager Simone Williams. “We are working on segmentation and driving it online and in-store, using customer data gathered through our ERP and till systems.”
Lewis said that at Harrods the personal shopping experience will act as the future driver of personalisation. In-store customer service and clientelling is, however, alien to a whole generation brought up shopping online, said Monetate’s Henry: “That generation has been brought up to completely avoid interacting with a salesperson. People in-store are there to add value to your experience. We are therefore seeing the really good adopters of personalisation trying to educate that younger generation online by asking the kinds of questions staff would instinctively ask in-store like ‘How can I help you?’.
“Shops did this well and we didn’t take this approach online. Now everyone’s paying the price in-store, but this year we’re going to see a shift.”
In terms of countries, Henry believes the UK market gets the concept of personalisation but is doing it in isolation, for example through product recommendations or email marketing but not as part of an integrated approach. “The US overall is a lot worse at personalisation, although they do search engine optimisation well. Aspirational brands like Macy’s are leading the way, with its ultra-personal experience and digital personalisation proposition based on loyalty card data.
“[Continental] Europe is culturally two years behind in its adoption of personalisation technology. European retailers are still having the same privacy debates we had several years ago.”
At the other end of the spectrum is China. Gieves & Hawkes digital marketing executive Karen Tang, who is responsible for the Chinese market, noted the importance for Chinese brands of the instant messaging WeChat app.
“WeChat works as a marketing system and customer service tool all in one. Lots of brands are also building their customer loyalty programmes on WeChat,” she said. “For example, if you shop with a brand you are encouraged to follow their official WeChat platform and every time you buy something you scan the QR code, which automatically adds points into the WeChat system. The account is also a membership card, so when you reach a certain level the system sends you a personalised message with recommendations or vouchers.”
Dobbie noted the importance of fostering a sense of pride in working in retail, which will be key as the reliance on store assistants to deliver personalisation increases.
Alex Bohea, ecommerce manager at London-based tailoring brand Without Prejudice, agreed that in-store staff are the first line of personalisation, which is particularly important when selling a premium product.
“We could not place more emphasis on the staff in our five House of Fraser concessions. I like to think of it as more of a concierge service. When a customer comes to our concession we have information about the types of garment they like and if a product arrives in-store we’ll give them a quick call.
“We have been re-educating the store staff to share the in-store personalisation online. To incentivise this we’ve started a commission-based programme for online sales. We can track when one of their customers has moved to an online purchase and then we like to give them a call and say well done.”
Gieves & Hawkes digital marketing executive Olivier Van Laer also sees personalisation starting in-store. “The perception of personalisation is that it’s a digital thing, but it’s a bricks-and-clicks thing. We need to make sure the customer is taken care of everywhere. We have some amazing ideas in development, but we need to collaborate with staff in our flagships, concessions and regional stores to persuade everyone in the business that personalisation is the future.”
Henry closed the discussion by advising the retailers present that the market expects personalisation and that the real leaders have moved on from personalising sales to personalising the whole experience, including service. “Focusing on sales personalisation is easy. The difficult part is retaining and serving those customers.”
It is clear from the roundtable discussion that investing in the right software is not enough. Retailers need to think holistically about how personalisation can add value to the customer
experience, both in-store and online, and ultimately foster a sense of long-lasting brand loyalty.
Final thoughts: What does personalisation mean for your business?
Marketing manager, Harrods
“The key to personalisation is not thinking about a person in terms of segmentation, based on the fact that, for example they are female and like to look at pink tops online. We need real personalisation based on the shopper as an individual.”
Head of global marketing, Hobbs
“Personalisation cannot be owned by one person. Success comes down to the organisation structure and business culture, encouraging marketeers and ecommerce teams to take joint responsibility with the CIO. To deliver clever, savvy personalised communications there needs to be collaboration.”
Ecommerce manager, East
“Personalisation has got nothing to do with age. It’s all about the experience and serving the right product at the right time. Our goal is to provide a better experience for our customers regardless of age.”
Ecommerce manager, Without Prejudice
“Personalisation can work for any age group if the tone of voice is correct. As long as you have your brand message correct personalisation can work for any age group.”
Head of ecommerce, Hawes & Curtis
“I don’t think a lot of consumers understand the level of personalisation being thrown at them. Generally it’s a bit of noise around the periphery of what you’re reading or email marketing. Really we need to think about the customer and their experience.”
Download our Personalisation Report
To read more on this subject, download Drapers’ and Retail Week’s free Personalisation Report white paper, in association with Monetate. The report contains an exclusive 200-retailer survey and features on:
· What is personalisation?We ask retailers what it looks like for their organisations.
· Where does personalisation sit within a retailer’s structure? We find out where the responsibility lays for implementation internally.
· How do retailer’s personalise? We ask what they do now, and what works.
· What are the challenges?They tell us what the hurdles are.
· What is the future of personalisation? We ask how strategies will need to develop.
List of attendees
East: Simon Williams, ecommerce manager
Gieves & Hawkes: Karen Tang, digital marketing executive; Olivier Van Laer, digital marketing executive
Harrods: Sara Lewis, marketing manager
Hawes & Curtis: Antony Comyns, head of ecommerce
Hobbs: Clare Dobbie, head of global marketing
House of Fraser: Tony Holdway, director of brand
Hunter: Michelle Noschese, global head of marketing; Nicole Leeman, international marketing manager
Thomas Pink: Charlotte Parker, online marketing manager
Without Prejudice: Alex Bohea, ecommerce manager
From sponsor Monetate: Alex Henry, director of solutions; Anthony Gavin, director northern Europe; Max Childs, marketing director
From Drapers and Retail Week
James Knowles, features and special reports editor, Charlotte Rogers, features writer; Alex Hamilton; research editor, Retail Week